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Seattle-area chefs on what to splurge/save on in the kitchen

Jackie Varriano, The Seattle Times on

Published in Fashion Daily News

SEATTLE — Well over a decade ago, my mom bought me a fire engine red KitchenAid stand mixer. It felt like unwrapping my own version of a golden ticket, one that would provide entry to a whole world of mixing, kneading, whipping and — given the additional attachments I chose to buy — grinding, pasta sheeting and more. Of course it didn't necessarily do all that. But I still love it and believe that it was one splurge that I would've willingly spent my own money on.

In this age where we are constantly bombarded with targeted ads and influencers turning us on to the latest "must-have" kitchen gadgets, where seemingly every celebrity (chef or not) has their own line of cookware, what's worth the money and where can we save?

I asked over a dozen Seattle-area chefs, restaurant owners and cookbook authors this question: In your home kitchen, where do you save and where do you splurge? The results were, unsurprisingly, highly personal. The most divisive issue? Knives.

Eli Dahlin, chef and co-owner of Capitol Hill natural wine bar and restaurant Light Sleeper, says that while knives are specialized tools and "some are incredible works of art," people only need a few of the expensive ones.

"I reach for Wüsthof or Victorinox brands as often as Shun. You can't buy knife skills," he said.

On the other hand, "Pieometry" author Lauren Ko, known for her beautifully intricate pies, says knives are the perfect splurge.

"I have a Japanese chef's knife made by Tojiro, and having something that is durable, hard, and super sharp is key for all things pie art (as well as personal cooking)," she said. "If I ever had to replace it, I wouldn't compromise on quality or cost."

Victor Steinbrueck of hip Fremont seafood spot Local Tide agrees with Ko, saying, "I for sure love to spend money on knives and will never shortcut myself there. There's nothing better than cutting a single meal's worth of veggies (as opposed to enough to supply a restaurant) with a nice sharp knife."

The "save" nearly everyone had on their list? Mandolines — those razor-sharp slicing tools.

As Donald Adams, co-chef and co-owner of Phinney Ridge fried chicken hot spot The Chicken Supply, says, "The $25 green Japanese-style mandoline is as good as any other expensive product that you could ever do the same thing with."

Same for vegetable peelers. "Don't buy the fancy, expensive ones, get the multicolored cheaper ones," says Brian Clevenger, chef and owner of General Harvest Restaurants.

Everyone agreed that you should always splurge on high-quality ingredients.

"I'd rather pay the money to local butchers, farmers and producers, and love filling my pantry with quality spices," says Rupee Bar chef Sarah Monson.

Here are other saves and splurges these chefs and restaurateurs suggest you keep an eye out for the next time you're looking to switch things up in the kitchen. Responses have been slightly edited for clarity.

Where to save

Cast-iron pots

While you can spend a ton of money on beautiful enameled cast-iron cookware like Le Creuset, less-expensive brands such as Lodge offer relatively similar cooking performance at a fraction of the cost. Their cast-iron products come pre-seasoned, are oven-safe and will last forever if you take care of them properly.

— Kinga Borkowski, chef and owner, Good Morning


My No. 1 gadget is definitely my coffee machine! I currently use a Mr. Coffee with a simple on and off switch. If am looking for something more than just drip, I'll leave it to the professionals, also a simple milk frother will help you enhance your favorite latte.

— Chris Ingmire, executive chef, Thompson Seattle

Maldon salt

I really appreciate good finishing salt. Nothing crazy, but just having a box of Maldon salt at home. It's currently a household necessity for my wife, too, who is pregnant and gets chocolate chip cookie cravings often and always finishes them with salt.

— Donald Adams, co-chef and co-owner, The Chicken Supply

Food waste

We're doing our best to use the whole product once purchased! This "saves" in several ways, including "saving" the Earth from more food waste! A simple carrot is a great example: Most of the veg is roasted and used on a dish, but then the juice is used to make a hot sauce, extra pulp is then dried and worked into pasta dough, and the green tops are used in pesto, dukkah or other sauces and seasonings. Another example: Dungeness crab! The meat is used in our pozole, but the bodies are used to make a nage (or broth) that is worked into crab butter. So yes, we extrude every bit of use (and flavor!!!) from every item we can, saving money and also creating less waste!

— David Nichols, chef/owner, Eight Row

Sparkling water

We have a SodaStream and buy the store brand cans/whatever is on sale when we want some flavor. Perhaps there are subtle differences between bubble size or flavor potency, but I wouldn't know!

— Kate Willman, general manager, Eight Row

Storage containers

All of my storage and containers come from CHEF'STORE. I'm a ride or die fan of deli containers. My dry goods are in Cambros and my cooking oils are in squirt bottles. All of these items are inexpensive and incredibly functional.

— Sarah Monson, chef, Rupee Bar


Outside of the one classic Kunz spoon that every professional cook should have, buy your spoons at a thrift shop. You can get great spoons for a fraction of the price.

— Brian Clevenger, chef/owner, General Harvest Restaurants


Cutting boards

Instead of opting for fancy butcher blocks, I gravitate towards simple boards that are dishwasher safe — ones made of composite materials are a fave.

— Lauren Ko, author of "Pieometry"

Where to splurge

Cast-iron pot

An easy one is saving on cheap nonstick pans but splurge on a really nice cast-iron pot! In our household, nonsticks are used everyday from making breakfast eggs to heating up leftovers. And they can get scratched or lose their "nonstickness" quickly, so we just move on to another cheap one. But we have been collecting the Staub pots in several sizes over the years and their ages just make them that much more trustworthy! Having braised meat, soup and the roast all at the same time in the winter is not just going to fill your fridge but your soul!

— Rachel Yang, chef/owner, Revel and Joule

Raw ingredients

I typically don't hold back when it comes to my raw ingredients — whether that's produce at the farmers market, oils, vinegars and mustards from specialty stores, spices from the spice store.

— Polina Chesnakova, author of "Everyday Cake"

Rice cooker

I'd be remiss to not mention that, as a must-have in the kitchen as making perfect rice is essential to my life.

— Victor Steinbrueck, chef/owner Local Tide

Cleaning supplies

We have noticed a major difference in atmosphere and health (pet/human) since switching to plant-based products. These less-harsh products are more expensive, but for us, it is worth it. Better for our hands, lungs, our pets, the smell of the kitchen and our stuff! Knives stay sharper longer and we experience less corrosion on lots of the kitchenware in general. We also use made-from-plants sponges, etc. Yay, plants!

— Kate Willman, general manager, Eight Row

Marble rolling pin

For pastry at least, this is the best way to go. It's naturally heavy, the marble keeps the dough cold, and they last forever.

— Eli Dahlin, chef/co-owner, Light Sleeper


I think people often cheap out on a blender for their home kitchen. I fell in love with Vitamix blenders while working in my first professional kitchen. These blenders are so strong — they have up to 2.2 horsepower! Most people have a crappy blender in their kitchen that will never be able to properly purée soups, sauces, smoothies or anything. The Vitamix makes quick work of any blending task and is incredibly durable. I bought one 10 years ago for my home kitchen, and it works as well today as it did when I bought it. Another nice thing about Vitamix is you can easily buy and install individual parts to replace a broken blender cup, cracked blade or if the bearing on the blender gets stripped. All the parts are available on Amazon and Vitamix has tutorial videos on how to change out the parts.

— Nicco Muratore, executive chef, mama group

Masticating juicer

These aren't cheap. The model I use sells for around $500, but it's been worth every penny.

— Eli Dahlin, chef/co-owner, Light Sleeper


You can at least sharpen cheap kitchen knives to get by, though when I met my wife, she had a great knives that became ours, so we were set. If you don't have great pans to work with though, that perfect crispy fish skin is much harder to achieve.

— Aaron Tekulve, chef/owner Surrell


We will pay almost any price for good cheese, and, in the most privileged way, cannot bring ourselves to buy it cheap. I have a tattoo of a block of cheese on my wrist and — well — that alone should explain my relationship to this "splurge" item. No price is too high!

— Kate Willman, general manager, Eight Row

Legacy items

I choose to splurge on tools with longevity like knives, equipment and ceramics. Things I can take good care of and use for years.

— Sarah Monson, chef, Rupee Bar

(c)2022 The Seattle Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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